Special report- UK Cabaret- Special Report
As concerns grow regarding the social networking revolution and its place in 21st century show business, UK Cabaret managing editor Mark Ritchie and UK Cabaret online content manager Martin Brown, join forces to ask questions about the negative side of social networking. Here we examine whether or not the apparent ignorance of UK libel laws from some of those in show business, who join in the Facebook and Twitter scene, could be detrimental to their career prospects.
Admittedly so many stories are anecdotal, while many others would be hard to substantiate, however there is no doubt that Facebook has the potential to do great harm to personal reputations and common perceptions of entertainers and agents for that matter.
We will not be publishing specific examples of potentially actionable or libellous posts on Facebook. The reason is the law of repeat libel, which exists simply to dissuade gossipers from repeating or propagating rumour or innuendo.
But whether you are a Facebook keyboard warrior, a bedroom blogger or a Fleet Street newspaper editor, the law of libel is very specific about what is acceptable and what is not, in terms of what is either written or broadcast.
Spelling out what the law of libel in the UK actually means is probably the best way to begin. Although the law is slightly different in Scotland, in England and Wales libel is defined as written or broadcast material, which is ‘defamatory’. Exploring the meaning of this word, a defamatory comment would be one where the subject of a statement or comment could prove that their reputation had been damaged.
Of course those on Facebook have the right to post honestly held opinions, but opinions should not be confused or intermeshed with posts or additions to threads, that hold the subject of the post up to ridicule, contempt or professional damage.
Although those looking to initiate legal action in a libel case would not find the whole process cheap, there are cases where aggrieved parties have taken a chance and mounted a legal challenge and come out as big winners. Similarly there are examples where personal and/or professional damage has been harder to prove, resulting in financially hardship or even ruin for some individuals.
The whole Facebook scene has contained anything from childish minor squabbles, to full scale slanging matches. The question is, do those indulging in the squabbling and/or the slanging, realise their posts could be scrutinised more closely than they seem to imagine. Those involved in the scrutiny of the tweets and the threads, range from moderators to entire legal departments, to which alleged transgressors can be reported.
So-called trolls have made some lives pretty miserable, as our UK Cabaret online content manager Martin Brown reveals. ”I myself was the victim of a troll and I ended up reporting them to the police, who paid them a visit. Aside from the libel laws, the keyboard warriors seem unaware of the computer misuse act 1990. This piece of legislation is very clear about using a computer to release libellous, malicious, defamatory or threatening material against an individual or individuals”.
One agent, who did not want to be named, told me there are acts he would definitely not want to book or represent, due to their online trouble-maker image. The agent opined that acts who cause problems on social networking are much more likely to throw a hissy-fit whilst out gigging.
We should end on a humorous note. I recently heard about a lady involved in the Clubland entertainment sector, who had just finished the first of three sets at a Clubland gig. Seated in the dressing room, the lady in question was soon on Facebook, declaring to all her Facebook friends what a dreadful, ignorant audience she has trying to entertain, and actually naming the club. One of her Facebook friends was a friend of a member of the management committee in the club and a thread had begun, with some acts joined in with the pillorying of the crowd and club officials. It seemed not to have occurred to the singer, ensconced in her dressing room inner-sanctum, that minutes after her tantrum post, everyone in the room had read her view of her audience and that she had two spots still left to perform. The chances of a re-booking would be fairly slim I would imagine!